The idea was to have a fun, flirtatious campaign for passengers high in the sky.
Napkins with Coca-Cola branding would encourage fliers to make a connection with their fellow passengers. The napkin offered a blank for a phone number, along with plenty of encouragement.
However, in the midst of the #MeToo movement, the messaging on the airplane napkins was ill-considered. Delta and Coke are apologizing.
It started with 33 words on napkins advertising Diet Coke:
“because you’re on a plane of full of interesting people and hey … you never know,” the front teases.
The back nudges further, emitting a shocking amount of peer pressure from a paper square:
“be a little old school. write down your number & give it to your plane crush. you never know …”
Some passengers, like Terry Pendergist, thought the napkins were “Pretty funny.”
But others said they were creepy and unwelcome.
“Pretty sure no one appreciated unsolicited phone numbers in the ‘good old days’ and they sure as heck don’t want the number of someone who has been gawking at them on a plane for hours today,” another passenger tweeted.
— Mike J (@MJJoe) February 1, 2019
The napkins are being pulled.
“We rotate Coke products regularly as part of our brand partnership, but missed the mark with this one,” Delta said in a statement to The Washington Post and other news outlets. “We are sorry for that and began removing the napkins from our aircraft in January.”
Coca-Cola also said in a statement to The Post, “We sincerely apologize to anyone we may have offended,” adding that the napkins are being replaced with other designs.
The promotion is just the latest to fall afoul of public sentiment.
The Washington Post continued:
The ill-conceived napkins are the latest ad campaign to stir complaints on social media after marketers were accused of being inappropriate, racist or sexist. In March, Heineken had to apologize for its “sometimes lighter is better” beer ad, which critics called racist because a light beer slides across the bar, bypassing several black people, until arriving in front of a lighter-skinned woman. In October, an Australian hotel apologized for an ad featuring a man and woman eating breakfast in bed, which was called sexist because the man was reading a financial newspaper whereas the woman dug her nose into a Chanel coffee-table book. And just this week, some viewers called T-Mobile’s Super Bowl advertisements sexist because they feature annoying women. One dashes her boyfriend’s hopes to eat tacos for dinner by favoring sushi; another sends very long emotional texts.
The messages were amplified by social media. Not everyone found the campaign offensive.
— Payal Lohia (@payalofthoughts) February 4, 2019
@Delta @CocaCola I friggin LOVE these napkins. How anybody can find this genuinely creepy is beyond me. I once met a guy on a plane and we ended up in a 6 month relationship…and it all started with a smile and a…number…on an airplane napkin #Delta #CocaCola pic.twitter.com/3Wg7YMjelp
— Juliet Jones makes stuff up for a living (@IreallyamJuliet) February 7, 2019
Thanks @CocaCola and @Delta, for encouraging people to TALK to one another, make new friends, or do anything besides stare mindlessly at phones. But don't you know it's practically illegal to flirt these days? Sad world, but nice try & not #creepy https://t.co/5xvmHXSo80
— Ashley Bergin (@punkmarkgirl) February 6, 2019
— Sarah Johnson (@SarahJohnsonPR) February 7, 2019
However, plenty found the item distasteful.
— Nikki Medoro (@NikkiMedoro) February 8, 2019
Buzzfeed noted that reports of sexual harassment have plagued the airline industry, making the campaign more unpalatable.
A 2017 survey of more than 3,500 flight attendants from 29 US airlines found that 68% of flight attendants had experienced sexual harassment during their careers.
Of these, 35% experienced verbal sexual harassment from passengers including “nasty, unwanted, lewd, crude, inappropriate, uncomfortable, sexual, suggestive, and dirty” comments as well as being subjected to passengers’ “explicit sexual fantasies, propositions, request for sexual ‘favors’ and pornographic videos and pictures.”
Delta has promised to replace the napkins with regular Coke-branded serviettes.
Brand managers might want to think twice before touching subjects that explore sexuality, race or other third rails of public discourse. More important, every marketing message should be analyzed by a diverse focus group. Even then, if you have doubts about your campaign, you might want to go back to the drawing board.
What do you think of Delta’s and Coca-Cola’s apologies, PR Daily readers?